A screenshot from a 1968 letter to the editor at The Statesman. This student argued that a pass-fail grading system would “relieve the student from the pressure of grades.”

Originally published on Feb. 9, 1968

To the Editor:

This system, I am told, was conceived by the faculty and Administration to relieve a student from the “constraints which our present grading system may impose on the students desire to try, without undo penalty, a wide variety of courses.” speaking from personal experience, if I had to grade this system pass or fail, it would indubitably fail.

I transferred from Nassau Community College last semester, entering Stony Brook as a Junior. Perhaps my problem is unique. While preparing my Fall program, I realized that I could only take one course which was not a requirement for my major, and since I needed 9 credits in the Humanities, naturally I chose a Hum. course. Now, since I could only look forward to four semesters at Stony Brook and since I had the option of taking four courses pass-fail, and since I could only take one course per semester on a pass-fail basis, naturally I “elected” to take Hum. 105 on a pass-fail basis. This same situation exists for me this semester. The only course I can take pass fail is Hum. 113. But this lack of freedom in electing my P-F course does not exacerbate me as much as the fact I have unwittingly sacrificed a B grade for the sake of a P. Perhaps this sounds mercenary, but a look at the realities of academia at Stony Brook, regardless of our limited pass-fail system, still reveal the Administration’s preconcern with letter grades; in short, the student must maintain a certain cum. in order to remain a student, and the aspiring graduate student needs all the B’s he can get.

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Personally, I would welcome a total, unrestricted pass- fail marketing system. I believe a pass-fail marketing system does relieve the student from the pressure of grades, and enables him to pursue each course for its own sake, and not for the sake of the grade. However, since administration, graduate schools, and our perspective employers believe letter grades or a better measure of a student’s knowledge, that I feel it is unfair to sacrifice in A or B for a paltry P, thereby denying the omnipotent cumulative is natural right to raise himself from the mire of a mere 2.0001… (ad finitum)

My suggestion is this: since the student has been offered the option to “elect” a course pass-fail, why not allow him the option to accept an A or a B in place of the P. in short, if the student takes a course pass fail and fails, then give him enough. If he receives a C or a D give him a P. but if he earns an A or a B, then give him his reward.     

Frank Auld

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